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In-Flight Dining: Virgin America vs. Singapore Airlines

Passenger Profile

Virgin America Coach, World’s Best Airline for Food, domestic: The two-year-old San Francisco–based domestic upstart appeals to budget-minded weekenders (many heading to Vegas) and cross-country fliers looking for an alternative in-flight experience.

Singapore Airlines First Class, World’s Best Airline for Food, international: With a presence in 65 airports around the world and a reputation for polished, discreet service, Singapore’s main clients are international businesspeople and discerning leisure travelers.

Annual Food & Beverage Budget

VA: Undisclosed.

SA: $500 million on food; $15 million on beverages; $16.5 million on wines.

Estimated Cost of Meal to Airline

VA: All main cabin snacks sell for $3 to $6 and cost the airline roughly half their selling price. Cost of meals undisclosed.

SA: From $60 (base cost, excluding beverages and special ingredients.) All meals and drinks are complimentary.

Menu

VA: A selection of sandwiches, salads, and snacks with an emphasis on fresh and healthy; includes a fruit-and-cheese plate with pecans and dried cranberries, a spinach salad with strawberries and feta, and a “Napa Valley” chicken salad wrap with apples and currants.

SA: A rotating library of over 15,000 dishes created in consultation with its “international culinary panel,” a team of eight high-profile chefs from around the world. Options range from laksa to nigiri sushi to pan-seared pheasant and an all-American 8 oz. rib eye with a peppercorn sauce.

Most Popular Dish

VA: Seared flatiron steak sandwich on a ciabatta roll with roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella, and pesto.

SA: Lobster thermidor with asparagus, slow-roasted tomato, and saffron rice.

Beverages

VA: California’s Wente Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and a cocktail-heavy list that includes mojitos, Cosmos, and even Le Tourment Vert Absinthe.

SA: Krug Grande Cuvée, Dom Pérignon 2000, and an extensive list of Old and New World wines, including a 2004 Château Patache d’Aux Médoc and a 2005 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay. Singapore Slings also available.

Presentation

VA: Main-cabin meals can be ordered at any time via a touch-screen monitor in the seat back and then hand-delivered by a flight attendant. No aisle-blocking trolleys necessary.

SA: The full china-and-crystal treatment for six courses spread over two hours; begins with warm nuts and bread service (choose from nine varieties) and ends with a cheese cart, a digestif, and chocolates.

Technical Triumph

VA: Pioneered on-demand dining: you eat what you want, when you want it.

SA: Holds food and wine tastings in a pressurized room in Singapore to simulate the in-flight experience, and vets dishes thoroughly for not only taste, but color, height, and overall appearance.

Biggest Contribution to Airline Food

VA: Recognizing that economy-class airline food can be both a source of revenue and a major draw for passengers.

SA: Returning a sense of glamour—and excitement—to first-class dining.

*As voted by T+L readers in the 2009 World’s Best Awards survey.

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